Sunday, September 30, 2012


I have been wanting to share some of the photography basics that helped me so much when I was just starting to delve into photography with my point and shoot.  There's one thing that seems so basic that they aren't even covering it in many of the basic tutorials:  focus.  Without focus, my whole last post was just so much hot air.  Or, well, hot pixels.


I promise you, focus is not as obvious as it seems.  If you have issues with getting nice, clear images, you are not alone.  I mean seriously, what's not to love about this picture from Estes Park?

Your camera most likely has auto-focus, one of the most wonderful inventions ever.  Here is what it doesn't do automatically:  read your mind about what is the most important thing in your picture!  How would you know this?  But you MUST know it if you want the results you are looking for.  The great news is that you get to be in charge of what is most important, because the camera is just your servant waiting for you to tell it what to do!

So here is the secret.  You either use an LCD screen or optical view finder that you hold up to your eye to frame (compose) your photo.  Right now we are going to keep it simple.  You may have many choices of focus points if you have an optical view finder.  You may have a number of options in your menu for focus area if you are using an LCD screen.  The default, and the easiest way to learn to focus, is to use the single center focus point.  It usually shows up in the middle looking like a bracketed square [  ].

Whatever is in the middle of that square when you push the shutter button halfway down and hear that faint little "bzzzt"--as long as it doesn't move before you take the picture!--will be in focus in your picture.  If it is five feet away from your lens, then everything five feet away will be in focus.

Ben and I were right smack in the middle of that picture, right?

Wrong. The red X is just above the middle.  Look again.


The camera did a perfect job of following Lee's instructions.  It focused beautifully on those plants on the rock wall behind us, and everything else that was the same distance away.  The sign was closer to the focus point than Ben and I were, so it is clearer than we are.  What I hadn't ever bothered to tell Lee was that if people are the subject of your photo, you have to lock the focus on their eyes.  Here is what he needed to know:

1.  Put that little bracket right over one of our eyes.  Since we were the same distance from the camera, if he got one of us in focus, the other would be too.

2.  Push the shutter button down halfway (until you hear that tiny little "bzzzt!") and keep it there to lock the focus on us.

3.  Then if he wanted to, he could move the camera a little bit in any direction (with the focus still locked!) to include or exclude some of the background.  In this case, that jewelry window does nothing for me, so I would have moved the camera to the right just enough to cut that out and include more of the rock wall.

4.  When he had focused on us, and moved the frame to include exactly what he wanted in the picture, he should do two things to insure that focus by holding super still:  squeeze his elbows in tightly to his sides, and hold his breath!

5.  Click!

Look at this example of two photos that have nearly identical composition, or material in the frame of the photo.


Here I locked my focus on the tree trunk, probably the high contrast area left of center where light and dark meet. Then I moved my camera a bit to the right, held my breath, and pushed the shutter.  Contrast  is very helpful to your camera when you are trying to focus. Your auto-focus detects it instantly.  If you are trying to focus on an area that is all similar in lightness or darkness, like a shadow, your camera may refuse to focus, or attempt to focus but keep readjusting.  If it's a dark area you want as your focus, focus on the edge of it to catch some contrast.

In the photo above, the buds are bokeh, which, as we discussed last time, is just a ridiculously fancy word for blur.  It's a word I would really never be caught saying out loud.  The buds are a blur, is probably what I would say.


Here I locked the focus  on the leaf buds in the foreground.  I'm not even sure which bud, but I'm guessing one of those on the left twig because it was easy to isolate, meaning there was nothing nearby to confuse the camera over which thing I was trying to focus on.  With the layers on the right, the camera might have vascillated back and forth between the back and front buds or twigs.  Now the trunk is the bokeh.  Or, the trunk is a blur.  (Not to be confused with last week, which is also a bit of a blur, but definitely not bokeh.  Last week is never bokeh.)

I'm coming back to aperture and depth of field next, very soon, actually.  I think I can clarify some of what confused people last time.  You do not have to shoot at f/1.8 to get bokeh.  Until August, my widest aperture was f/3.6, and you can get lots of bokeh with that. Those tree shots above?  f/6.3! Before that, I got bokeh with my point and shoot.  I think maybe I can teach you a few tricks for getting more of it.  Time will tell.

If you really want to come to class prepared, read this tutorial about depth of field ahead of time.  And then, if you've never done so before, PRACTICE getting your focus exactly where you want it.


Lee is getting it figured out.  You will too.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A question about background bokeh


Teachers know that the best way to really understand something is to try to explain it to someone else.  In this post I am going to talk about photography terms like aperture, bokeh, and depth of field, on all of which I am NO authority, believe me.  But explaining it will help me think through it for myself.  At the end I will give links to people who are actually qualified to talk about such things.  You may want to skip ahead to that right now.  Especially if you want to know what aperture is, because I am not going to try to explain that one.

After my post about the farm, Kate (a.k.a. Givinya deElba) asked me this question:


I'd be interested to know what your aperture was for the pic of the beans?  

(I'm thinking she meant this one focused on the cute Maggie with the beans in the background


as opposed to this one of just the beans.)


Different to the one with Bethany and the eggs?  

(That's where you can tell Kate is from Australia.  
I love that I can hear her accent when I read what she writes.)


Different again to the cow and calf? I liked that the cow and calf had recognisable corn in the background instead of bokeh - 
I might have been tempted towards bokeh myself and missed the lovely farm-feel of the corn.

First of all, it was really sweet of her to assume that I approached the shot of the cows with informed intentionality.  Kate and I track really well with each other.  I ask her Photoshop questions, and she asks me photography questions.  We answer with lots of links to people who could tell you the actual answer, if you are at the point where you could understand them.  And then we do our best to answer ourselves.


So here's my attempt at an answer to why you can see the shape of the the corn behind the cow and calf, rather than the comparatively smooth bokeh (bow-kuh--background blur) of the same corn in this picture behind the cows and Bethany.  Photographers love blurry bokeh, and that's why Kate was pleasantly surprised by the corn in the cow and calf photo.

The short answer to Kate's question is that I was using my 50mm lens at f/1.8 ("wide open") aperture on all of the photos you see in this post.  That means there are factors other than aperture which affected the amount of bokeh.

DSC_0598 - Version 2

This is the original photo of the cow and calf.  I cropped it quite a bit above, but now you can see they are fairly far away.  I am standing at the fence that Bethany was climbing on.  I focused on the head of one of the cows.  The whole cows are relatively in focus.


In this subsequent photo (not cropped), the calf had kept walking toward me, and now is much closer so that she doesn't even fit into the frame.  She is farther away from the corn.  I haven't moved.  I focused on the eyes of the calf, and you can see that even her neck is somewhat out of focus.

The f/1.8 aperture is great for creating shallow depth of field (again refer to tutorials).  But the closer you are to your subject, the more you get the effect of that shallow depth of field.  So the same calf that was all in focus at f/1.8 farther away only has her head in focus at the same aperture close up.  The corn bokeh maintained more detail at the same distance from me when the camera was focused closer to the corn and farther from me.  When the focus was on the subject closer to me, the corn is farther away from the field of focus, and therefore more blurred.  

In review:  

close subject+far away background=more bokeh


Is all of that as clear as bokeh?

Two great tutorial series with all of the basics including aperture and depth of field:

Another really interesting related topic is lens compression--good tutorial here.

Now go take a picture with some nice, smooth bokeh!  Unless it is corn.  Then capture the corn.  :-)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012



My friend Peggy invited us to her farm.


You may have seen it with me before.


We actually have sort of a standing invitation.


She is gracious like that.



Plus she likes that I notice all the beautiful things.


Because there is other stuff around her too.
Isn't it like that for all of us?



The kids love going to visit her family.


There is so much life there.




When I saw these tomatoes, it hit me what this post would be called.
(And I still remembered a month later, now that I am sitting down to write it!)


Jesus said, "This is to my Father's glory,


that you bear much fruit,


showing yourselves to be my disciples."
John 15:8


Everything about Peggy's life is fruitful.


Her family.  Her gardens.  Her home.  Her kitchen.


Her life at church.  Her life in her community.


She might be quick to say not everything in her life is fruitful.  But still.

DSC_0353 - Version 2

She lives life to her Father's glory. 
 She inspires me to do the same.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, 
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
Galatians 6:9

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A new post (courtesy of my husband)


Blogging has not been at the top of my list lately. But as luck would have it, this morning Lee said to me, "Did you see my new post?" He had been busy working on the deck while I was at a meeting last night. I was quite happy that someone had come up with a new post, since I've done a poor job of coming up with them myself.


Here I think he may be pretending to BE a post.
I'm a sucker for his goofiness.



While I'm here, I thought I would show you a few of my 50mm lens experiments. 
 It's not easy to get used to shooting without a zoom, but wow, the low light results are amazing.





Oops!  I did wish for my zoom when the bald eagle flew over.







Thankfully I knew enough to put my zoom back on for this:









Love my 50mm too!


Happy Fall!